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As my profile will tell you, my name is Ash McGonigal, and I'm a filmmaker from Topeka. I'm currently working on pre-production for a documentary, The Tolerance Project.

There have been a lot of documentaries about Westboro Baptist over the years. One of the most infamous, Hatemongers, was made by Steve Drain, who became a member of the church over the course of filming. Fall from Grace, currently on Netflix Instant Watch, gives the Phelps family a lot of time to explain their beliefs.

We aim to do something different. Phelps and his church have bullied my town longer than I've been alive. My parents urged me not to mess with Westboro Baptist Church, or even let them know my name. I want to highlight the brave souls in Topeka and nationwide who have opposed his efforts.

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Another goal of mine is to document the unified fashion with which the rest of the country has opposed Westboro -- and most of our budget will be spent on travel expenses, given the huge number of pickets the cult does around the country.

Throughout the pre-production process, I'll provide updates and stories from Topeka. Our web site, scheduled to launch next week, will host a video log of our progress and updates from the anti-Westboro community.

Westboro Baptist Church is the truest definition of a group of bullies. It's a group that the KKK looks at and says "Dude, you're giving us hate groups a bad name."

And it's all my hometown is known for.

Gay Topekans enjoy no protection from discrimination in the workplace (and even if they did, our status as a Right to Work for Less State would render that protection moot). And it's hard to imagine that drawing a crowd of protesters to work with you wouldn't be a firing offense, even if other protections existed. Even if the boss sticks up for you, most Topekans would rather avoid a group of crazy people shouting obscenities at them. Fred's hysterics give him far more power than his message or his congregation warrant.

Compounding the problem with Fred's powers of intimidation are politicians who condemn Phelps and his actions while supporting Westboro's legislative agenda. When liberal enclave Lawrence passed an ordinance barring discrimination by sexual orientation, a state law overturning it was prevented only by the end of the legislative session. In fact, a state law prohibiting sodomy remains on the books -- and a commission set up by the governor specifically to remove anachronistic legislation refused to include that statute in the list.

These legislative decisions have a huge impact on the ability of Topeka to mobilize against the snake in our midst, and part of our work will be to get the responsible parties on the record about why.

But we need your help. We have the drive to complete this project, but not the resources. While we're waiting for Kickstarter, in the places Phelps goes where we can't get to, if there are Kossacks available who can get video of counterprotests and post to YouTube (or elsewhere), please let us know.

This is a big project, so if you have expertise to offer and you feel moved to offer it, we can certainly use it. But if changing the reputation of a city was easy, everyone would do it.

Originally posted to Geiiga on Tue Feb 12, 2013 at 01:20 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and RaceGender DiscrimiNATION.

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